Give your fans a sense of belonging. Turn them into heroes

Give your fans a sense of belonging. Turn them into heroes

We ended the last post with the concept of putting the consumer at the center of the action, and turning fans into brand advocates.  Dunkin’ Donuts gets a lot of mileage out of its fan community because it finds ways to engage them actively in the brand conversation.

Why is this so important?

Fans who engage actively in your brand conversation are the ones who will promote you.  They are the customers you can enlist to find and win new customers.  By leveraging their involvement, we tap into the true power of Internet marketing.

When I was doing research for my latest book, Email, social marketing and the art of storytelling, I came across some interesting information on how Dunkin’ Donuts views its online relationship with its customers.  In a Fast Company article on social currency, Dunkin’s director of interactive and relationship marketing explains that their promotions are built around the goal of turning fans into online celebrities.  For example, each week they choose a different fan photo to be the official Facebook profile picture.  Or, they disseminate user-generated snapshots of people drinking Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in atypical situations.

One of the company’s most successful efforts at generating stories from the community happened when they asked users to send in photos of themselves drinking iced coffee in the depth of winter, in the most unusual situations (and the lowest possible temperatures!), with a description of where they were.  They offered coupons for coffee at a reduced price to thank those who participated.

In fact, what is Dunkin’ Donuts doing with these types of promotions?  They are putting their users at the center of the brand conversation; they are turning their customers into heroes.  And, when people feel like heroes, they want to share their stories with their friends, their tribes, and their world.

In addition, a Dunkin’ Donuts promotion gives people a sense of belonging.  As decades of research has shown, people simply like to belong to something, even if that something is nothing more than a group of individuals who like the same coffee, or a group who are crazy enough to drink iced coffee at temperatures below zero degrees.

Far more than most companies, Dunkin’ Donuts has succeeded in giving fans a sense of belonging to a community, and at turning them into true promoters of the brand.  Their engagement-based initiatives help explain why people are 50% more likely to have heard good things about Dunkin’ than about Starbucks.

When Dunkin’ Donuts organizes such an online contests where clients send in photos of themselves drinking product, they track not only the number of participants but also the “product plugs” (their term for endorsements) generated by the posts and status updates that people put on the social sites.  In 2010, one such online event produced nearly 4 million of these plugs.

Making customers feel part of your culture and your journey can be accomplished in simple and inexpensive ways.  For example, it costs almost nothing for Dunkin’ Donuts to choose each week a different fan photo to be its official Facebook profile picture. All it takes is listening to your customers, finding out what’s important to them, and making them part of your collective journey.